Now, after 14 years as the bereft damsel of baseball, Washington has two knights defending her honor in joust.

Let's hope Bowie Kuhn and Jack Kent Cooke don't unhorse each other.

It's a shame the former baseball commissioner and the Washington Redskins owner never will be partners in bringing a team back to RFK Stadium. Each has just what the other lacks.

Kuhn, who says he would join a D.C. investment syndicate "under certain circumstances," and Cooke, who's gunning for the first team that wanders into his checkbook's cross hairs, do not want or need each other.

One team would be too small to hold them both, just as Edward Bennett Williams left the Redskins picture when Cooke moved here from the West Coast and took direct control of his team.

Too bad.

Kuhn's the ideal man to get a team. Cooke's the ideal man to keep it here.

Conversely, Cooke is hardly the perfect man to ask the lords of baseball to vote him into their club, while a Kuhn group might lack the savvy and cash to run a winning organization.

When Cooke's name is mentioned among baseball owners, a hush falls, not unlike that which follows Banquo's uneasy ghost. The names Charles O. Finley, Ted Turner and George Steinbrenner quickly race into the conversation, as though Cooke possessed some rare and not altogether savory blood type.

Men of vast wealth, large ego, firm opinion and forceful speech aren't exactly in great demand among baseball's ownership.

Cooke thinks he has old baseball friends from his days as a minor league operator in Toronto. He does. They just aren't in baseball anymore.

At 71, Cooke's health is good, but his age is still a strike against him.

When baseball owners look at Cooke, they see a rich, tough, smart old guy who's full of himself and hard as hell to handle. In short, he scares 'em.

By contrast, Kuhn is comfortable as old long johns.

Mr. Good-of-the-Game always looks for compromise, avoids other folks' toes and takes a fall for a friend or a good cause like a soldier.

Baseball is a clubby closed society in which favors and past votes aren't forgotten. "We owe Bowie," was a chorus among owners at half-a-dozen league meetings during his long ugly firing.

The feeling here is that if Kuhn ever steps forward and says, "I've been offered the chairmanship of the board by a solid ownership group that requests a National League expansion franchise for Washington, and I want it," he'll get it so fast they may not bother to vote.

All of Cooke's hundreds of millions won't matter a cent.

And all of Williams' moans about Baltimore attendance won't net the NL votes he needs to block the action. The Orioles owner might be able to call in enough chits to stop Cooke, if he decided to try, but never Kuhn.

It's a done deal.

Ueberroth already has set the stage for Kuhn with his curious expansion criterion: "multiple grass-roots ownership." Where did this one come from anyway? Is it the Kuhn codicil?

Kuhn, and any group for whom he played a senior statesman role, might fit Ueberroth's profile of the ideal owner right down to the ground; but they'd have one heck of a time building a team that escaped the cellar more often than the old Senators.

That's probably part of what Kuhn means by "certain circumstances." He knows how much it costs to survive in baseball, and also how much more it costs to succeed. He left baseball in defeat. Perhaps his dream is, one day, to accept the Commissioner's Trophy, an award he created that is given to the World Champions.

He can't do that with a shoestring franchise. If he can't come in with partners who're willing to lose millions of dollars a year for several seasons, then he probably won't come in at all.

As well suited to getting a team as Kuhn is, that's just how perfect Cooke would be to operate one. As he's proved with the Redskins, Cooke knows how to hire first-rate personnel, he leaves them alone and he spends enough cash to go first-class without being profligate.

Cooke's ability, and willingness, to lose money for a decade without flinching is a far more significant factor in the Washington equation than his promise to foot that $15-million renovation tab at RFK Stadium in exchange for a long-term master lease.

In the long run, Washington would be better off economically if it paid for the rehab tab itself and got a team that generates $40 million to $50 million a year in spinoff than it would be if Cooke dolled up the stadium at his own expense, but then couldn't get a team.

For longtime Washington baseball fans, these are strange times, strange questions and complexities.

At any time since 1971, they would have groveled with gratitude at the thought that a man as rich and experienced in pro sports as Cooke, or one as famous and well-connected in baseball as Kuhn, was trying to get a team for D.C.

But noooooo. We have to get them both at once. In fact, the best guess at sundown yesterday was that at least two different Washington syndicates were making plans and chatting up Kuhn.

It truly is feast or famine.

For a dozen years, Washington couldn't get a big-name or big-money candidate as a potential owner. It couldn't drum up a Baseball Commission to make noise. It couldn't get the District government to give a good sneeze about a team in RFK. It couldn't get a sympathetic Armory Board to talk about a sweatheart lease. It couldn't get a new stadium manager with a flashy set of specific plans on his desk for renovating RFK as a baseball park. It couldn't get local businessmen to spearhead a drive to sell season tickets.

Now, Washington has all of these.

What this proves, perhaps, is that things happen in their own time. Or, perhaps, that one occurrence sets off a chain reaction.

What is indisputably clear is that, if Washington is going to get baseball in this century, it's going to have to be done in this current push. Wherever baseball's next expansion wave stops, whether at 28 teams or 32, it may well stay there for a long time.

Both Kuhn and Cooke have liabilities as central ownership figures. But either of them has a far better chance of getting a team and, of succeeding with it, than any of those who have carried Washington's colors into the fray for the last 14 fruitless years.